Citizen advocates joined with government employees to condemn increasing gun violence in the United States and to discuss solutions at a district policy panel hosted by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) in the Alumnae Lounge last night.
Clark represents Massachusetts’ fifth congressional district, which includes Medford, and said that constituents ask her about gun violence more than any other issue. She added that she received more than 4,000 letters calling for action this in August alone.
“As a mom of three boys and as a former prosecutor, this is an issue I think about a lot,” Clark said.
Clark noted that more people have died in the United States from gun violence since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. less than two years ago than all U.S. troops who died in the Iraq War.
She shared the stage with Malden Police Chief Kevin Molis, who throughout his career has met many families of victims of gun violence.
“I don’t understand why the [illegal] possession of a gun is not treated as the menace that it is,” he said. “These are real people. You don’t forget that.”
Another panelist, John Rosenthal, characterized it as a public health crisis.
“What could be more important than public health and safety?” Rosenthal said. “And we have no right to feel safe when it comes to gun violence.”
Rosenthal founded the organization Stop Handgun Violence in 1995, and he said that he feels that federal regulations create an ideal environment for gun violence, noting that companies manufacturing toy guns can face more restrictions.
“The real firearm that will result in 88 gun deaths today … is completely unregulated,” Rosenthal said.
He also criticized the absence of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which had been in place until 2004. According to Rosenthal, while licensed duck hunters are limited to three rounds in their weapons, the rules disappear for non-hunters.
“There’s no limit on the amount of ammunition in a gun for hunting people,” he said. “There is no way to look at this other than that it is gun violence by design.”
Rosenthal criticized Congress for pandering to special interest groups.
“When it comes to guns, Congress has sided with the funders of their campaigns,” he said. “It would be very easy to solve if you didn’t have a life opponent in the gun industry combined with the [National Rifle Association].”
Clark, who has been in office for just over eight months, said she was surprised by her fellow representatives’ unwillingness to move forward on “common-sense” gun control bills.
“I knew there would be many different sides of this issue, but it is not being discussed,” she said. “There are very entrenched special interests.”
While Clark’s colleagues have held several moments of silence for victims of various shootings during her time in office, she said few are eager to go beyond a symbolic gesture.
“We are simply not discussing these issues in a meaningful way,” she said. “It’s never been more clear that action is needed.”
While the mass shootings are what stand out, the panel agreed that the problem goes beyond that. Panelist Ann Krantz, now the communications lead of the Massachusetts chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, was initially prompted to take action by the Sandy Hook shooting.
“I couldn’t get past the fact that there was no reason why Newtown wasn’t my town,” she said.
However, Krantz noted that 60 percent of gun deaths are accidents or suicides.
Another panelist, Mary Gianakis, gave her perspective on the role that firearms play in domestic violence. As the director of Voices Against Violence, a crisis center in Framingham, Mass., Gianakis explained that for every man killed in an incidence of domestic violence, four to five women die.
“Domestic violence homicide is the homicide of women,” she said. “A key factor in those homicides are firearms.”
While the majority of panelists favored stricter controls on firearms, they made it clear that they were not out to ban all guns. Rosenthal asserted that action can be taken to reduce gun violence “without any inconvenience to gun owners like me.”
“We can support the Second Amendment and still do so much more,” Krantz said.
Molis, who said he was on the panel to provide a “street perspective,” reiterated throughout the event that the gun violence he sees in Malden is almost entirely with guns acquired illegally.
“A common theme that we find is that the gun violence that we’re seeing is being committed by criminals who could not legally possess a gun,” Molis said.
While he has dealt with 11 shootings in the eight months since Clark took office, Molis said that all of them were with unlicensed guns that had been stolen or bought through illegal channels.
“It’s not attributable … to law-abiding citizens,” he said. “That is not where that level of crime is emanating from.”
Several panelists noted that in 33 states, including New Hampshire and Vermont, firearm sales can take place privately without government oversight. They praised Massachusetts’ approach, however, which Rosenthal cited as lowering gun violence in the state by 40 percent in the past decade.
“Massachusetts does stand tall compared to some of our counterparts around the country,” Molis said.
The panel, one of a series Clark has planned for the coming months, was introduced by Alan Solomont (A ’70), the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts. He said that being politically aware and involved was a crucial part of being an active citizen.
“Communities in our nation and the world are more just and more prosperous when citizens are engaged,” Solomont said.